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When a Command isn’t just Law…


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

73 You created me, and you keep me safe; give me understanding, so that I may learn your laws. 74 Those who honour you will be glad when they see me, because I trust in your promise. 75 I know that your judgements are righteous, LORD, and that you punished me because you are faithful. 76 Let your constant love comfort me, as you have promised me, your servant.  GNT Psalm 119:73-76

God “commanded” the world into existence (Ps 33:9; Isa 45:12). All creatures and elements therefore obey his command (cf. I Kgs 17:4; Job 37:12; Ps 78:23). God also directs the course of history by decreeing crucial events; indeed no determinative event happens without God’s ordaining it (Lam 3:37). Indeed he decrees that his people be victorious (Ps 44:4 [H 5]).
What God commands to be done, he provides the means to accomplish, e.g. he instructed Moses concerning the building of the cultic furniture and buildings; then he inspired Bezalel and Oholiab with the Spirit of wisdom to be able to accomplish the work (Ex 31:2–6; 35:30–36:1). Regarding the making of these objects the text first details the instructions and then describes Israel’s careful fulfillment of God’s commandment (Ex 25–30; 36–39; Lev 8; cf. Ex 39:5, 7, 32, 42f.).

Over the last year and a half, one of my Bible Studies has been slowly working through Psalm 119.  Over and over it talks about the joy that is found in the law of God, in His commands, in His directives, in His ordinances!

The challenge is that we Lutherans tend see this only as Law – the commands that we cannot hope to keep, and therefore find ourselves. condemned.  My old denomination as well had this problem, as it divided the covenants of God into Law and Promises.

We hear Law, we head commandment, we hear precept and our mind automatically goes into “theology mode”.  This is God’s command, we have to fear when we hear it because we cannot hope to meet its demands, it will only point out our sin.

But that is not how the Psalmist continually refers to God’s law in Psalm 119, and in most of the Psalms.  It is a delight, a joy, something that grabs our attention and holds it, breathes life into us!  It inspires and empowers us.

It is not just what we refer to as the terms of the covenant, or the law which we properly distinguish from gospel. It is the entire Covenant, the law and gospel complete and in perfect tension.  The entirety of theology, the word of God complete.  Our need for salvation, His saving us at the cross of Christ.

As the apostle Paul put it so beautifully,

3  Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. 4  Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love 5  God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose.” Ephesians 1:3-5 (TEV)

This is what God tells us He established by His very commands from the beginning.  It is His reason, His word, it is Christ’s pleasure and purpose, as well as the Father’s and the Holy Spirits.

The quote in blue, for the word law in the psalm quote, coems from a Hebrew Lexicon.  It states it well, what He commanded, He establishes the means to accomplish, indeed the entire Trinity is invested in making it come to pass.

For us, so that we could be His people, His children, so that we would know Him as our God, our benevolent, loving, caring, comforting Father.  So He has commanded this to be, and so it is!

Let that bring you great peace, great joy!  What God has established, ordained, commanded, made His law is now.  You are His.  AMEN!

Hartley, John E. “1887 צָוָה.” Ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament 1999 : 757. Print.

 

An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse! A sermon on Exodus 19:2-8


church at communion 2An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse

Exodus 19, 2-8

 In Jesus Name

As you learn of the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, it is my prayer that you so awe aware of how He considers you His treasure, that you respond to His love, even before you know all His covenant promises.

A Deal you cannot refuse

As we look at the Old Testament reading this morning, as we see Israel committing to hear and treasure God’s word, I thought of the line from an old movie,

“I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse”

They didn’t refuse it, and unlike the movie, they didn’t accept it from fear or intimidation, they accepted what we now call the Mosaic Covenant completely, and without any hesitation or reservation.

They heard what God said through the prophet Moses, and they accepted it.  Enthusiastically, with great joy, and with a hope that didn’t come from studying the fine print, for there wasn’t any fine print yet.

But with hope born from knowing Who it was that they were entering a relationship with, and knowing His character, His care, His patience and persistence, they were willing to become His people again, and they trusted Him at His word, “you will be my own special treasure.”

Having seen that, and knowing the character of God, they accepted,

What else could they have done?

They didn’t make the decision with complete knowledge of the Covenant!

If you take a moment to look at the chapters around this passage,

Right after this chapter, they will hear the basics of what God expected of them, of how they would be able to live in view of the fact that they were His people.

We commonly refer to these words as the 10 Commandments, or more precisely, the 10 Commandments, the Decalog.

Think about that for a moment.  They chose what was offered without knowing what it would cost, without knowing what God would require of them.  They didn’t have a copy of the covenant, with a magnifying glass to consider the small print.  Or for that matter the large print.

Some would say that is blind leap of faith.

Many would say it isn’t enough, it isn’t logical.

I mean – how many of you would buy a house or a car without knowing how much it cost?  How many of us would let someone we didn’t know watch out house and our finances for a couple of weeks/

That is what they did here,

They promised to God what He asked of them.  No questions, no details, no idea of what God would ask of them.

We may think them naïve, or maybe stupid,  We may think their leap of faith is beyond what we could do, we need proof of God’.  We might even think that they were caught up in the emotion of the moment, and that they promised something that they could not possibly keep.

It doesn’t matter, for you, whether you know scripture like a professor, or whether you are drawn to trust Jesus right now, are being given the same question right now.

Will you hear and treasure God’s covenant?  Will you be His special treasure, His priests, His holy people?

Every year, the Jewish people were to hear all the words of God anew, and re-dedicate themselves to doing this very thing.  So will you?  Will you listen to God?  Will you treasure the relationship, the covenant’s describe?  Will you be His people, will you have Him as your God?

No matter the cost?

All they needed to know was God

I said earlier that some people call this a leap of faith, some would say a blind leap.

It is neither.

let me explain, pointing you to what went before this reading.

We know God heard the cry of the descendants of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and brought them out of Egypt as promised.  We know about the plagues and the cool way they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. We know the Egyptians didn’t make it across the same Sea.

But what amazes me, and what I think convinced the Israelites was what happened next.

They complained, they whined against God.  First over no food, then over know water.  They turned their noses up with God and said that slavery in Eqypt was preferable to following God through the wilderness. They rebelled, they sinned, they tried to break up with God and go their own way.

And God took care of them anyway.

He provided for them, even miraculously.

He didn’t give up on them, He brought them to Sinai, and said look how I’ve carried you already, look how I’ve brought you to myself. I didn’t give up on you yet, I won’t break my promises.

They didn’t make a leap of faith, they simply were reminded of the love of God, and His patience with them, and the love He poured out on them, even when they were a bunch of whiney discontented folk.

Given the opportunity to cement the relationship they were promised a half century before they were born, a relationship God bound himself to provide,

They said yes, we will…for this was an offer they couldn’t refuse

Neither should we refuse it, for Jesus’ blood, shed at the cross, made this possible. For His sins cover their sins, and our sins, it makes it possible fod God to say, you are my people.  Your sin I have sent away, your unrighteousness has been paid for, come be my people, come be my special treasure.

Not saying we should be whiney or discontent, but this is the same relationship we celebrate in this place, from our songs which celebrate it, to the readings and sermons that reveal it over and over, to the declarations like you are forgive, this is His body and blood given for you, to the promise we hear over and over…..

The Lord is is with you.

You are his treasured people.

Will your hear Him still?  Will you treasure this relationship He’s drawn you into?

AMEN!

Epiphany! I Have Revealed My Faithfulness! A Sermon on Micah 6


church at communion 2Epiphany! I Have Revealed My Faithfulness

Micah 6:1-8

 I.H.S. † 

 May you rejoice today, as you consider the promises of God, made to you and to all people, as He teaches us about His faithfulness!

All Rise… the court is in session:

In today’s sermon, we see an interesting civil court case, one that has some very interesting testimony and a wonderful surprise or two…

Like many civil trials, there is a complaint, and sort of a counter-complaint.

The adversaries are talking about who has kept their part of the deal, and what that means.

The trial is not what you would normally expect, for Man and God going to trial.  It is not one where man is on trial, to see whether a man is guilty or innocent.  Nor is it a trial as someone tries assert that the evidence given to mankind demands a verdict, that God exists.

It is more like a case for what they used to call an “alienation of affection,”

Man’s complaint

The trial opens with God inviting mankind to state their case against Him.  What promises did God make, where in the covenant did God fail? Our carefully planned out points of complaint are seen on the next slide. (Blank)

Yes, there they are….

Now you might be saying that there are plenty of things I can complain about.  The existence of heart diseases, cancer, poverty, hunger, and the lack of peace seem to come right to mind.

Remember, the case is about the alienation of affection.  Did God break his promises to Israel.  Did God break His promises to us.

And there is little evidence that He did, no, there is no evidence he did.

His surprising complaint

We then get to God’s complaint.

It’s then the case becomes clear, for He doesn’t shred us (or Israel) for our sin, for all the disrespect we show to authority, and pain we’ve caused to others lives.  He doesn’t go after us for adultery, or what we’ve taken from others, for our gossip or our jealousy and what it causes us to do.

Instead, hear God’s complaint….

“O my people, what have I done to you?  What have I done to make you tired of me!”

Really?  Of all the things that God could complain of, He complains that we’ve grown tired of Him?

Really?

That sounds… weak?  wimpy?  Like God is a lovestruck teenager, whose girlfriend was stolen by the class president/football team captain?

“What have I done to make you tired of me?”

Could God really be that in love with us?  Does He desire to call us “His” that much?
Epiphany reveals to us that he loves us that much.

Not just infatuation, but pure desire, pure love, and His work proves it.

And His case is.. What?

God will go on to make a case, that there is no reason for us to be alienated from Him, there is no reason to deny Him the affection he so longs for.

Remember the rescue from Egypt?

What about the time that prophet was paid to curse you and blessed you instead?  Do you remember that?

Do you remember me?…..

Do you do something to remember me?

God tells them what He’s done, as he says, in the midst of your rebellion, from the Acacia Grove to Gilgal’s caves, I did everything to teach you about my faithfulness.

God wanted to instill in Israel the idea that He’s not giving up on them.  He wanted them, just like He wants us, to count on Him, to count on Him in the way that a God is supposed to be counted on by His people, by His beloved children.

That’s a challenge for us, to know this love, which is why we have to remember, to see it again over and over.  TO think back daily on God proving that faithfulness as He cleansed us from all sin.   TO think about it as God calls us to remember the Body broken, the wine that was spilled so that we could be with Him, now and for eternity.

That’s why God doesn’t need all the sacrifices, that’s why we don’t have the blood of calves and rams and more oil than you can count.

That’s not what He’s after, He doesn’t want complete submission and surrender, and lives spent in trying to pay back the cost of all we’ve broken.

God wants our affection, our presence, our love.

And in Epiphany we celebrate Him revealed that to us, as Christ comes to love us.

Micah 6:8

Which brings us to that final verse, as God tells us what is good… and what He wants from us.

TO do what is right – or to put it another way, to live in this relationship where He is our God, and we are His people. To love His cHesed, to know that loving kindness/mercy/love, that loyalty, and faithfulness He has for us, and to walk with Him, realizing what it means to be His beloved.

Those things, we don’t tire of, those things will cause us to be in such awe, those things will draw us into His glory and love.

No, they have done those things – for we are in Epiphany, the season celebrating His presence among us, and our presence in Him.   AMEN!

 

 

The Reason the Church is Here….


Devotional Thought of the Day:

17  When they saw him, they fell at his feet in worship, even though some of them struggled to trust Him. 18  Jesus went to them and said, “I have been given all responsibility in heaven and on earth. 19  You area going disciple people of all cultures: by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20  and instructing them to treasure this covenant relationship I committed to with you! And I am with you ever day, for forever.”   Matthew 28:17-20 (parker’s paraphrase)

To be a disciple of Jesus means that we can and must follow a way that is directly opposed to our own natural gravity, to the gravity of egoism, to the search for what is merely material and for the maximum pleasure that we confuse with happiness. Discipleship is a way through agitated, stormy waters that we can follow only if we are in the gravitational field of the love of Jesus Christ, if our gaze is fixed on him and therefore supported by the new gravity of grace that makes possible for us the way to truth and to God that we would have been unable to follow by our own efforts. That is why being a disciple of Jesus is more than concurrence with a definite program, more than sympathy and solidarity with a person whom we regard as a model. It is not just Jesus, a human being, that we follow; we follow the Son of the living God. We follow a divine way. Where does Jesus’ way lead us? It leads us to the Resurrection, to the right hand of the Father. It is this whole way that we mean when we speak of following Christ as his disciple. Only thus do we journey the whole way of our vocation; only thus do we really reach the goal of undivided and imperishable happiness. And only from this perspective do we understand why the Cross is also a part of our discipleship as followers of Christ (cf. Mk 8:24). There is no other way for us to come to the Resurrection, to the community of God. We must follow the whole way if we want to be servants and witnesses of Jesus Christ. And every single step is different depending on whether we intend to go the whole way or merely to carve out for ourselves a kind of human party program. We can come to Christ only if we have the courage to walk on the water and to entrust ourselves to his gravity, the gravity of grace.

I have to start with a disclaimer.  I want to write nothing about this post, save what you see above.  The charge for us to disciple the world, by helping people enter into a relationship as part of the people of God, and then to teach them to treasure this covenant relationship, this relationship based on God’s plan, on His terms, for Hs is God.  That is the work of the church that is how we are to love our neighbor; that is the work of God, or as my favorite pastor/author noted, the Opus Dei.

These words of Cardinal Ratzinger in blue (later Pope Benedict XVI)  are an incredible description of that relationship, this discipling process.  Go back and read them again.  Go ahead, go do it.  And again, savor the words describing your relationship with God, as you are pulled into this incredible.

But is this what we are about in the church?

Is this what we value in our own lives personally? Do we understand this incredible, blessed fellowship we have been brought into with the Father, Sona nd Holy Spirit?

We need to, and we need to get that this is far more than obeying laws and commandments (though that is part of it).  It is, to use the Old Testament prophecies, the very “being” that is knowing that we God has made us HIs people, and He is our God.

This is what is revealed, from the very beginning to creation to each time someone is baptized or is revived as their sins are forgiven, or are renewed as they take and eat the Body broken for them, the bloodshed to bring them into this covenant relationship.

This is what we treasure; this is what we guard, (which is what tereo means – not just obey/observe) This is what we reveal to the world, it is how we disciple, this is how we live.

Even when we struggle, or doubt, for Jesus is our Lord. And He is with us.

AMEN!

(1)   Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 140). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Is God More Than Love?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Matthew 10:28 (NJB)

For what is increasingly taking place before our eyes can be summarized in the words: the fear of men, that is, the absence of the fear of God, is the beginning of all foolishness. Today, since the image of God has been subjugated to the laws of advertising, the fear of God has all but disappeared from the catalogue of virtues. If he is to have advertising appeal, God must be so graphically depicted in exactly the opposite way that no one can possibly find any reason to fear him. That would be the last quality that would appear in our representations of him. In this way, that reversal of values that was the real sickness of pre-Christian religious history spreads more and more throughout our society and even in the midst of the Church. For even in ancient times there was a widespread belief that one did not have to fear the good God, the real God, because from him, since he was good, only good was to be expected. There was no need to worry about the good God; the evil powers were the ones to fear. Only they were dangerous; consequently one must do all in one’s power to win their favor. In this maxim we can see that the service of idols is an apostasy from the service of God. But we are surrounded by this idolatry. The good God does us no harm; we need offer him no more than a kind of primitive trust.

I was told earlier this week that preaching the gospel wasn’t as important as living it.  That what was needed was to abandon all that divided us from others, in order to find the peace and love which would change our community.   That we couldn’t let doctrines like the Trinity or like Justification, or even the nature of Jesus divide us from worshipping together.  Because what really matters is being good, and being loving.    (I’ve also had to deal with the other extreme, but that is another blog perhaps!)

I think Cardinal Ratzinger’s quote above puts it quite well.  We seem to have caught the idea that God is love (and He is!), but failed to understand what it means to love.  Or maybe perhaps, we have let those we fear ( or are in awe of ) re-define the meaning of love. So love becomes a form of acceptance, an acceptance/love that doesn’t seek out the best for the beloved, but assumes where they are is the best.

Perhaps this why God is not feared, and therefore, His words aren’t heard or obeyed. We don’t want to hear the part of God transforming us, refining us.   We only want a God who will bless us, who will do us no harm, who will not wisely rebuke or expect us to change, or conform to the image of Christ.

But it that was true, why did Jesus need to come?  Why did He have to die on a cross?  Why is it, that even John the Apostle, who is described as the beloved, is terrified when he enters the presence of God?  Why did Jesus say that our fear shouldn’t be of the world, and the opinions of man, but of God, to whom we are ultimately responsible?

Yes, there are people who make mountains out of what is neither commanded or forbidden in scripture.  There is also the core gospel, that which is described in the creeds, about our creation, and the conception, birth, life, death resurrection of Christ, and that it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to a life in relationship with Him. A relationship where we learn that God is amazing and holy and just… and yes loving.  Loving enough that He calls us to repentance and transformation.  Loving enough to wisely grant us that repentance, and cause and complete the transformation.

Being in fear of God, being in awe of His justice, His power, His wisdom and His love does something to us.  It causes to humbly, and yet confidently enter His presence.  To accept the relationship on the only terms offered. His terms.

But those terms are glorious….

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 47). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The One Who Journeyed for a Promise!


What Child Is This?SAMSUNG

The One Who Journeyed for a Promise!

Genesis 12:1-9

In Jesus Name

 

May you realize how the grace of God our Father, the mercy, love and peace revealed to us as we are united to Christ, may you realize how it sustains you on this journey.

 Journeys…..

I wonder if there were children among Abraham’s people, if during the journey from UR to Bethel, he heard the ever present phrases emanating from the back of the caravan….

“Are we there yet?”

“Fr. Abraham, cousin Michael is hitting me!”

“Honey, is there a bathroom ahead of us soon?  I didn’t have to go at the last Oasis, but now…”

During the journey, there must have been times when Abraham raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Yahweh, you said this journey would be worth it….well – when does it get to be worth it?”

And about that time, someone gets sick…..or there is a flat tire or someone wonders whether the driver is lost, or…or..

Journeys do not always go as we plan.  Sometimes they are fun, sometimes not so much.  Especially when we forget why we are on the journey, when we forget our destiny.

Ultimately, that is what it is all about…knowing your destiny, and knowing that you aren’t alone on the journey….

Abraham’s Journey

So let’s look at Abraham’s journey first.  Imagine the conversations he had with his father, his family and friends.

You are going where?

Who is this God again?  How does He speak with you?  How are you going to manage there, no friends, no help?  Imagine the questions that Sarah had, and Lot.

It’s not easy to pick up everything and go to a destination you don’t know much about, to not even know when you are there!  Take my word for it, Kay and I have done this once or twice….

One of the things about Abraham’s life, that fascinates me, is trust in God, when he had no idea of the depth of the plan. The plan was revealed slowly, and the fulfilment of it was always off in the distance.  Eventually the promise would be seen fulfilled – but how many years?  He knew his descendants would spend time in captivity.  He struggled with how an old man would have heirs.  Like us, he sinned often, doing things like giving into his fears, and letting his wife be taken by a king.  He wrestled with God over the fate of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, He moved here and there, never really settling in one place in the Promised Land.   He may not have known hardly any of the points in the journey, but he had a promise, and he knew well the Lord who promised him.

CLICK  There is one thing he did, (well besides sinning) that we see here.  He set up places where he could worship, places set aside to interact with God.  Places to pray, places where Abraham could call on the name of the Lord the passage tells us.

It was a regular part of his life, even before the church, even before the Temple and the tabernacle.  Even as his life wasn’t easy, even as he was betrayed and hurt by his nephew, even though he would face small wars… there was a constant.

God’s presence, interaction with God.  What we call a relationship, or abiding with Christ.

A relationship where Abraham knew God well enough to trust Him at His word, and to call upon God often. God was part of his life, that’s why Abraham could trust Him.

Even when the trusting in God meant a long hard journey, with a bare visible promise.
Christ’s Journey

We are in Lent, a time to consider Christ’s journey, to understand our need for Him to take that journey, and to wonder at a love so complete for us.

His journey was different.  He wasn’t able to take his wealth, or a wife, or anything.  He came as a babe, the babe we were singing about 3 months back, asking what child was this.

He probably the only one who chose to go on a long, long journey?

Definitely, He was the only one who took a journey knowing that a destination on the journey was death.  A hard, bitterly cruel death, on a wicked, torturous cross,

He knew the promise. The writer of Hebrews tells us that when he was inspired to write.

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

He endured it, he endured the journey, because the cross wasn’t His final destination point.  It was simply a place where He did what the Father wanted, a midpoint, a place to take care of things, and put everything to right. 

The joy was the destination, not even the resurrection, but 40 days later, as He ascended to the Father.  He obeyed, like Abraham finding the strength through prayer, through interaction with the Father.  Knowing that the cross wasn’t the end of the promise, but a waypoint. A part of the journey, but not the end.

His focus was what was the promise.  The Promise.  The Same Promise given to Adam and Eve, and to Abraham, and to Judah, and David, to Isaiah and Jeremiah.  His journey was the beginning of the promise.  Hear Hebrews again,

39  Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. 40  God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours. Hebrews 11:39-40 (MSG)

His journey was a “there and back again” journey. He had a pick-up to make. That pick-up – are those who would join Him in the journey.  Those who would find life in Him, and start their journey, even as we have.

Our Journey

Back to that quote from Hebrews.  The one that talked of Jesus’ focus on the destination the end of the final leg of journey that we call the Ascension.  Hebrews tells us:

1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.   Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)

You see His journey was to come and get us, and return us to the Father’s presence.  That’s the promise of Abraham’s journey, that every nation would be blessed because of Jesus, the seed of Abraham (his descendant see Mt. 1)

His journey and the promise is about our journey!  His destination is ours!

Ours may seem more like Abraham’s at times, and that’s because it is, and well, isn’t.  It is because we will sin, and struggle, there will be times of war, and times where others walk away to places like Sodom (Hopefully we don’t forget to rescue them when needed, and intercede and wrestle with God for them as well!)

There will be times where we wonder – “why aren’t we there yet?” and times where we might get lost for the moment.  We may still sin and struggle, we may still not find a permanent home, for the destination is still some way off.

The promise is still the promise – we can keep our eyes on Jesus, our champion, the one who brings us into a relationship where we grow in trusting God, in hearing His voice.

For that is where we can be most like Abraham, as we establish our times and places to hear God, to praise Him, to let Him nourish and strengthen Him, even as we look to the promise of His presence.

For He will never leave us or forsake us.

That too is His promise, on this journey of life.

What Child is this?  The One who undertook a journey to come and take us on the journey of our lives… the one where the destination is found where we abide in the Father’s glory, the journey where Jesus Christ will guard our hearts and minds, for the journey is taken in His peace… amen?

 

Can God Re-Build a Church? Look at His Heart & His Track Record!


Devotional Thought of the Day:

  In the first year that Cyrus of Persia was emperor, the LORD made what he had said through the prophet Jeremiah come true. He prompted Cyrus to issue the following command and send it out in writing to be read aloud everywhere in his empire:  “This is the command of Cyrus, Emperor of Persia. The LORD, the God of Heaven, has made me ruler over the whole world and has given me the responsibility of building a temple for him in Jerusalem in Judah.  May God be with all of you who are his people. You are to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem.  If any of his people in exile need help to return, their neighbors are to give them this help. They are to provide them with silver and gold, supplies and pack animals, as well as offerings to present in the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:1-4 (TEV)

“Land of my fathers, how I long to return, to touch the thy earth, and find again they sacred paths, well walked with the Gospel of peace, veiled now in the shadow of mediocrity.  What means these stones, which beset they coastline, who in tristed in agaony cry out in praise and supplication of Him, and the renewal of the faith that bled to secure them there….Yet we would walk again Thy sacred paths, repair Thy ancient ruins, restore Thy Broken Altars, raise of the foundations of many generations….”  (1)

Since I watched a small church in Van Nuys close, the building sold away, the money given to more growing and “growing” churches, some might say I have an attitude problem.

Every time I hear of a church being written off, or the attitude that we can combine parishes, that we can leave churches in “maintenance mode”, until they whither and die I get a bit…. well pissed off is what I want to say, but know I should not.  Experts give up on churches that are more than 25 years old, they say they are in a death cycle, and quote statistics about churches that are 5 years old or younger being the source of most abult baptisms and growth.  We buy into these studies – and dismiss the lessons of scripture – we dismiss the times where God has taken things that have long been broken, or considered dead and/or impotent, and created life that is wondrous and beautiful and so outrageous we say with jaws dropped open….. WOW!

Think about..
Israel in captivity for 400 years plus – rebuilt into a powerful nation

Exra rebuilding the temple – at a unbeliever’s direction and underwriting

Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones, Jeremiah’s promises.

Hannah and Elizabeth and Sarah  – wombs that were old and dried up (that’s what scripture says)  Their men weren’t spring chickens either…

Though my wife and I aren’t in their age bracket – or in their physical deterioation – we are both within 366 days of being considered “senior citizens” by our community.  And we just found out we are expecting. That kind of shock makes you think.

Or renders you  incapable of thinking.

Gof has interesting plans in life… and life is what His plans are about.  Restoring it, Rebuilidng it, Cleansing it, with all His craftsmanship rendering it into a masterpiece that makes you jaws drop – more than a 48 year, 364 day old man trying to get his mind to consider he will be a dad again.

My point is, if God can do this – why would he want to let a congregation die, or fade off?  Why would he want where his name has been put, to be rendered impotent, the doors closed, the windows bordered up – the building sold and a starbucks or liqour store or antique store put in its place?

I don’t believe He does, it is not how He has worked.  He has brought us, His people, to the place where we can cry out to Him, and like those who have gone before testify to us – He always answers…. Rebuilding our congregations is about trusting Him, hearing Him, knowing His love for us and our community.

So let’s cry out Lord have mercy – and knowing His heart – let us see how He will rebuild our churches, His Church, through us!

 

(1)from Celtic Daily Prayer – Aidan Reading 2/10

Remember the Promised Relationship (Covenant)


Devotional Thought of the Day:
 28  I will always keep my promise to him, and my covenant with him will last foreverPsalm 89:28 (TEV)

“A Covenant sealed with blood commits both parties to each other for ever.  All they have belongs to the other, and they will lay down their life on the other’s behalf”  (1)

It was over a dozen years ago that I picked up a 2 year devotional book, called Celtic Daily Prayer.  It is the source of the quote in green above.  I’ve decided to renew my acquaintance with it, this year, partially because of its practical meditations that are challening.  So my readers might see a lot of it pondered on my blog this year, as the last year often had quotes from St. Josemaria Escriva. (and still will – )

It seems to be one of those God things that the first day’s meditation I cam across was one that focuses on Covenant. My original training in theology was within the framework of Covenant, and the deeper I’ve gone into understanding liturgical worship, the framework there is Covenant as well.

A quick definition is needed then, one I’ve developed.  Covenant Theology is a description of the intimate relationship that God desires to have with His people, and makes possible through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Scripture contains the history of God’s faithfulness to His covenant people, looking forward and back to the cross, the point where God’s love makes the depth of His desire to love us clear, where he gives us a tangible, perfect example of His lovee, as He commits Himself to us, as Christ’s blood was poured out to seal the agreement.

This is something we need to remember daily, as St. Paul prayed for God’s people (us),

 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17  that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18  you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:15-19 (MSG) 

Explore the love, meditate on it, rejoice as you find it revealed to you in scripture, as you pray, as you gather with others around the Eucharist, as you proclaim Christ’s death – the measure of the triune God’s love for you and I and all the world. That is what it means to remember Chirst when you take and eat His Body, when you drink of the Blood that cleanses us from sin.

Theology is the servant of this relationship, in the way a marriage certificate or a love letter, or a powerpoint celebrating a 50th anniversary is.  It points to something that is more than anything we can ever completely express, this love of God for us, this desire to make us His children.   It is what Christianity is,

He loves us… He hears us, He died for us, His is with us… and we are His!

THe Lord is with you, so relax in His love!


(1)  Celtic Daily Prayer, The Northumbrian Community, HarperOne (Aidan Reading for Jan.5 )

Mandela, Memorials, Celebrations and Funerals…for what purpose?


Raising of Lazarus. Jesus calls out Lazarus fr...

Raising of Lazarus. Jesus calls out Lazarus from his tomb. Mary and Martha accompany Jesus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional THought of the Day:

21  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” 23  Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24  “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” 25  Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” 27  “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”  John 11:21-27 (NLT) 

Have you ever said something that was far more accurate than you could ever expect?

In the gospel, Martha responds to Jesus, testifying to why she believe her brother is alive.  She says this even as she knows his body, broken and empty, lies cold behind he stone. She got the answer right!  I have believed you are the Messiah… that makes everything  – including seeing her brother again, not just a nice thought – but an expectation.  Because of Him!

I have been thinkning about this a lot in the last days, since Mandela’s memorial service, and the uproars that it caused. People, newspeople and those who followed their stories missed the reason for a memorial service, and later for the funeral, which was far more private. It seems like a constant theme in the months that have passed, as many people I know have lost family, dads, and granddads.  The grief is a bit overwhelming, in some ways more personal this year, more overwhelming, even before my own dad’s suffering was replaced with the joy of being in the Father in Heaven’s presence.

So why do funerals exist?  Are they to celebrate the accomplishments of a person’s life?  Are they there to give voice to the grief the family and close friends know?  Are they times for us to put life in perspective, realizing that all life has a termination point? Are they times for us to meet up with old friends and family, in a place where the disagreements and distance seem.. well minute?  Is there time for laughter and joy amidst the tears?  If so, is it even appropriate? So many questions, and as a veteran pastor, each of the questions will find their answers differently, because they are not the primary issue of the memorial service, the celebration of life, the funeral.

THe prupose is something different.  It is something deeper, something more challenging to consider.

It is about celebrating the relationship between God and the person who has passed away.  About realizing that God has fulfilled the promises to that man or woman personally. That as God claimed them as His, as God sustained them, blessed them, disciplined them, exalted them, love them, that their life is a testimony to God’s love and mercy.  THat we can entrust this person we cared about, whom we loved, into the hands of God.   Because of that we know as King David said of His son, there will be a day when we can go to him.

It doesn’t matter whether it is Mandela, or a dear friend.  Those God has claimed are His,stating His claim at the cross, when Jesus died. He is faithful, even when we struggle to be.

Such is God’s love for us… a love that is shown in life and death. A love that needs to be revealed, and celebrated, and known.

For in realizing that love, we also realize His comfort and His peace, even as our eyes resemble waterfalls…

ALl these labels for these events, the ceremonises should teach us of God’s love… and I pray we hear it, see it revealed, and know it in our hearts..AMEN

The Eucharist: the Strength to Reveal Christ to Others…


English: The Lord's Supper. Christ standing at...

English: The Lord’s Supper. Christ standing at an Orthodox altar, giving the Eucharist to the Twelve Apostles. Frescoes in the upper church of Spaso-Preobrazhenski cathedral. Valaam Monastery Русский: Алтарная апсида верхнего храма Спасо-Преображенского собора Валаамского монастыря. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

This can only mean that whenever you eat this bread or drink of this cup, you are proclaiming that the Lord has died for you, and you will do that until he comes again. So that, whoever eats the bread or drinks the wine without due thought is making himself like one of those who allowed the Lord to be put to death without discerning who he was1 Corinthians 11:26 (Phillips NT)

If you don’t keep in touch with Christ in prayer and in the bread, how can you make him known to others? (1)

Though I have been in churches of many denominations and brotherhoods, the three I have spent the most time in, have had something in Common.  The weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, also known as Communion, or my preference, the Eucharist.

To be honest, it is something that I took for granted far too often.  The Eucharist was something that when I was younger I thought was a spiritual “fill-up”, an opportunity to refocus, a chance to be reminded of God’s promises, a chance to remember His grace covering my sin, as surely as His blood was poured out on the ground.

You might be saying, well Pastor Dt, that’ what it is all about – isn’t it?  That moment of refreshing, a weekly “mountain top” experience, a break and rest from the norm, and a break from the sin which haunts them.  A chance to really realize what holiness is about…

As we think about what the Eucharist results in, we slowly lose sight about it is…  the Body of Christ, given for us; the Blood of Christ, shed for us…

It is  not just about knowing God’s love – it is time with Him.  A time for His to comfort and cleanse and help us explore with Him the height and depth, breadth and width of  His love, and the Father’s love. A time not just where we are reminded of His covenant and its promises, but where He, Himself, reminds us of that promise – most specifically His loving presence.  That we are His family, called to dinner with Him as the Host…

That is why Paul can say we proclaim His death – it is ours, we who are untied to Him in His death and resurrection (our re-birth)  It is time with Him in that moment beyond time, that foretaste of the feast that will be thrown when we all have come home.   We proclaim it – not just for our benefit – but that others would join us at this incredible moment, in this incredible time with Him…celebrating out union…our being the beloved. It is from there, from that depth of intimacy with Christ, that knowing Him and being known by Him, that the kerygma – the desire to introduce others to Him springs forth.

Not from duty…

But from the passion He has for us, the unbelievable love He has for us….

And we know who we are introducing people to, not just a way to “be saved”, but the God, the incredible, majestic, glorious God who loves them, Who gives them life… and brings them into His glory.

It is where we find the answer to our plea… Lord have mercy….  and know He does that in a way beyond expression… and it is He, even more than us, the is joyous in the reunion.

Godspeed us all to this realization.

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 396-397). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition

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